| Chap. 1 | Chap.
2 | Chap. 3 | Chap.
4 | Chap. 5 | Chap.
6 | Chap. 7 | Chap.
8 | Chap. 9
FOUR: Reconstruction in the West
Reconstruction is usually associated with
the defeated South during the decade following the Civil War.
Yet, as the vignettes in this chapter reflect, the political
process also involved western states and territories which had
to define new relationships between their white and black citizens.
The first vignette, Felix Haywood Remembers the Day of Jubilo
depicts one Texas slave's immediate response to his freedom.
Juneteenth: Birth of an African American Holiday shows how western
blacks have permanently incorporated the celebration of the
Texas Emancipation Proclamation while Bill Simms Migrates to
Kansas shows the post-war response of a Missouri ex-slave to
his new freedom. The vignette Reconstruction Violence in Texas:
John Wesley Hardin describes the conditions the freedpeople
faced right after the war while Comanche War Parties in Texas
is a reminder that the state had both a reconstruction and frontier
legacy. The vignette Black Kansans Call for Equal Rights suggests
that the freedpeople in the West are intent on demanding full
citizenship. Symbolic of that citizenship in the minds of many
freedpeople was the nation's embrace of the Fifteenth Amendment.
The vignettes Henry O Wagoner, Jr., on Black Rights, Black Voting
Rights: The View from the Far West, and Black Voting Rights:
A Hawaiian Newspaper's Response, illustrate both the black campaign
for the Fifteenth Amendment and white support for the measure.
The Reconstruction Amendments: Oregon's Response, however, reminds
us that such support was not universal in the region. The vignettes
The Elevator Celebrates Passage of the Fifteenth Amendment and
Helena Citizens Celebrate Their New Rights reflect black hopes
with the amendment's eventual passage. School Segregation Comes
to Portland, however, indicates that ratification of the amendments
did not ensure equal rights for African Americans.
Terms for Week Four:
- Texas Emancipation Proclamation
- Texas Black Codes
- Matthew Gaines
- George T. Ruby
- Edmund Davis
- Texas Republican Party
- Texas State Police
- Freedperson "adoption"
- Allen Wilson Case
- Portland's Colored School, 1867
- Dr. W. H. C. Stephenson
- William Jefferson Hardin
- Territorial Suffrage Act, 1867
- Lewis Douglass
- Charles H. Langston
- Henry O. Wagoner, Jr.
FELIX HAYWOOD REMEMBERS THE DAY OF JUBLIO
Felix Haywood, born a slave in Raleigh, North
Carolina, gained his freedom in San Antonio, Texas, in the summer
of 1865 when word finally reached Texas. In this interview Haywood
recalls the day of emancipation.
Soldiers, all of a sudden, was everywhere--coming
in bunches, crossing and walking and riding. Everyone was a-singing.
We was all walking on golden clouds. Hallelujah!
Hurrah, boys, hurrah!
Although I may be poor,
I'll never be a slave
Shouting the battle cry of freedom.
Everybody went wild. We felt like heroes,
and nobody had made us that way but ourselves. We was free.
Just like that, we was free. It didn't seem to make the whites
mad, either. They went right on giving us food just the same.
Nobody took our homes away, but right off colored folks started
on the move. They seemed to want to get closer to freedom, so
they'd know what it was like it was a place or a city. Me and
my father stuck, close as a lean tick to a sick kitten. The
Gudlows started us out on a ranch. My father, he'd round up
cattle unbranded cattle for the whites. They was cattle that
they belonged to, all right; they had gone to find water 'long
the San Antonio River and the Guadalupe. Then the whites gave
me and my father some cattle for our own. My father had his
own brand 7 B) and we had a herd to start out with of seventy.
We knowed freedom was on us, but we didn't
know what was to come with it. We thought we was going to get
rich like the white folks. We thought we was going to be richer
than the white folks, 'cause we was stronger and knowed how
to work, and the whites didn't, and they didn't have us to work
for them any more. But it didn't turn out that way. We soon
found out that freedom could make folks proud, but it didn't
make 'em rich.
Did you ever stop to think that thinking don't
do any good when you do it too late? Well, that's how it was
with us. If every mother's son of a black had thrown 'way his
hoe and took up a gun to fight for his own freedom along with
the Yankees, the war'd been over before it began. But we didn't
do it. We couldn't help stick to our masters. We couldn't no
more shot 'em than we could fly. My father and me used to talk
'bout it. We decided we was too soft and freedom wasn't going
to be much to our good even if we had a educa¬tion.
Source: Robert D. Marcus and David Burner,
America Firsthand: From Reconstruction to the Present (New York:
St. Martin's Press, 1989), p. 11.
JUNETEENTH: BIRTH OF AN AFRICAN AMERICAN HOLIDAY
In a brief 1992 article for the Eugene Register
Guard I attempted to explain the origins of the Juneteenth holiday.
Part of that article is reprinted below.
Freedom came in many guises to the four million
African Americans who had been enslaved at the beginning of
the Civil War. Some fortunate black women and men were emancipated
as early as 1861 when Union forces captured outlying areas of
the Confederacy such as the Sea Islands of South Carolina, the
Tidewater area of Virginia (Hampton and Norfolk) or New Orleans
from 1861 onward. Other black slaves emancipated themselves
by exploiting the disruption of war to run away to freedom,
which in some instances was as close as the nearest Union Army
camp. President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation
liberated all blacks residing in territory captured from the
Confederates after January 1, 1863. These slaves did not have
to run for their freedom, they merely had to wait for Federal
troops to arrive.
Emancipation for the majority of African Americans,
however, came only in 1865 when Confederate commander Robert
E. Lee surrendered his army to Federal forces....at Appomattox
Court House in Virginia. With that surrender the....rebellion
was over. News of Lee's surrender spread quickly through the
former slave states east of the Mississippi River. Texas, however
was another matter. Isolated from both Union and Confederate
forces, Texas during the Civil War, had become a place of refuge
for slaveholders seeking to insure that their "property"
would not hear of freedom. Through April, May, and part of June,
1865, they did not. Finally on June 19, 1865, freedom officially
arrived when Federal troops landed at Galveston, Texas. Word
of emancipation gradually spread over the state despite the
efforts of some slaveholders to maintain slavery.
But African Americans would not be denied
the liberty that had eluded them so long. When the news came
entire plantations were deserted. Many blacks brought from Arkansas,
Louisiana and Missouri during the War, returned home while Texas
freedpersons headed for Galveston, Houston and other cities
where Federal troops were stationed. Although news of emancipation
came at different times during that Texas summer of 1865, local
blacks gradually settled on June 19 (Juneteenth) as their day
of celebration. Beginning in 1866 they held parades, picnics,
barbecues, and gave speeches in remembrance of their liberation.
By 1900 the festivities had grown to include baseball games,
horse races, railroad excursions, and formal balls. By that
time Juneteenth had officially become Texas Emancipation Day
and was sponsored by black churches and civic organizations.
Indeed, Juneteenth had become so respectable that white politicians
including various Texas governors addressed the largest gatherings
(which sometimes included upwards of 5,000 people) in Houston
and Dallas. Juneteenth had surpassed the Fourth of July as the
biggest holiday of the year for Texas African Americans.
With the migration of African Americans from
Texas to the West Coast particularly during World War II, Juneteenth
simultaneously declined in Texas and grew in the emerging black
communities of Los Angeles, Oakland, Portland, Seattle, and
San Diego. And some communities east of Texas such as Washington,
D.C., and Birmingham, Alabama, began celebrations as well. But
by the 1970s many blacks, including those in Texas, had forgotten
the holiday's origins and its significance in African American
Source: Quintard Taylor, "The Juneteenth Celebration, 1865-1992,"
Eugene Register-Guard, June 8, 1992, pp. 1D, 4D.
RECONSTRUCTION VIOLENCE IN TEXAS: JOHN WESLEY HARDIN
John Wesley Hardin is remembered as the most
notorious 19th Century Texas gunfighter in a state famous for
such men and in an era which produced violent contemporaries
such as Jesse James and Billy the Kid. Between his first killing
in 1868 and his imprisonment in 1878, Hardin killed twenty men.
Yet unlike the other two "outlaws," Hardin's targets
were often African Americans including his first victim in 1868.
That blacks were his frequent victims partly stemmed from the
highly charged racial politics of Reconstruction where white
men often justified their attacks by pointing to the "oppressive"
Republican government headed by Governor Edward Davis which
was in power in Austin at that time. In 1895 Hardin was shot
and killed in an El Paso saloon. The vignette below, taken from
Hardin's autobiography, describes his 1871 encounter with African
American members of the Texas State Police.
E.J. Davis was governor then, and his State
Police were composed of carpetbaggers, scalawags from the North,
with ignorant Negroes frequently on the force. Instead of protecting
life, liberty, and property, they frequently destroyed it. We
all know that many members of this State Police outfit were
members of some secret vigilant band, especially in DeWitt and
Gonzales counties. We were all opposed to mob law and so soon
became enemies. The consequence was that a lot of Negro police
made a raid on me without lawful authority. They went from house
to house looking for me and threatening to kill me, and frightening
the women and children to death.
They found me at a small grocery store in
the southern portion of Gonzales County. I really did not know
they were there until I heard some one say, "Throw up your
hands or die!"
I said "all right," and turning
around saw a big black Negro with his pistol cocked and presented.
I said, "Look out, you will let that pistol go off, and
I don't want to be killed accidentally."
He said, "Give me those pistols."
I said "all right," and handed him
the pistols, handle foremost. One of the pistols turned a somerset
[sic] in my hand and went off. Down came the Negro, with his
pistol cocked and as I looked outside, I saw another Negro on
a white mule firing into the house at me. I told him to hold
up, but he kept on, so I turned my Colt's .45 on him and knocked
him off his mule with my first shot. I turned around then to
see what had become of No. 1 and saw him sprawling on the floor
with a bullet through the head, quivering in blood. I walked
out of the back door to get my horse and when I got back to
take in the situation, the big Negro on the white mule was making
for the bottom at a 2:40 gait. I tried to head him off, but
he dodged and ran into a lake. I afterwards learned that he
stayed in there with his nose out of the water until I left.
The Negro I killed was named Green Paramoor and the one on the
white mule was a blacksmith from Gonzales named John Lackey...
News of this, of course, spread like fire,
and myself and friends declared openly against Negro or Yankee
mob rule and misrule in general. In the meantime the Negroes
of Gonzales and adjoining counties had begun to congregate at
Gonzales and were threatening to come out to the Sandies and
with torch and knife depopulate the entire country. We at once
got together about 25 men good and true and sent these Negroes
word to come along, that we would not leave enough of them to
tell the tale. They had actually started, but some old men from
Gonzales talked to them and made them return to their homes.
From that time on we had no Negro police in Gonzales...
Soon after this I took a trip to see some
relatives in Brenham, and nothing of interest happened until
A posse of Negroes from Austin came down after
me, and I was warned of their coming. I met them prepared and
killed three of them. They returned sadder and wiser. This was
in September, 1871...
Source: John Wesley Hardin, The Life of John
Wesley Hardin: As Written By Himself (Norman, 1961), pp. 61-63.
COMANCHE WAR PARTIES IN TEXAS
Strangely, while blacks and whites, Republicans
and Democrats, East Texans and South Texans all carried on parallel
struggles for control of the post-war state government, white
and black Texans on the state's vast western frontier often
made common cause against an old enemy, Comanche raiders. The
vignettes below however show the complexity of that struggle.
The first part of the vignette describes a Comanche raid which
resulted in the death of an African American youth. The second
part describes a Comanche war party that included at least one
black and one Hispanic raider. Part three discusses Comanche
retaliation after one of their chiefs, a black man, was killed.
Settlers along the Texas frontier suffered
terribly just after the war, and none were more exposed than
the herder folk on the edge of the plains. Late in the summer
of 1867, Governor J.W. Throckmorton wrote to Secretary of War
Edwin Stanton that since Appomattox, Indians had killed 162
Texans and wounded or carried off many more. He estimated that
they had also stolen thirty-one thousand cattle and almost three
thousand horses. Clear Fork settlers during the war had remained
on constant alert for the rare but ever threatening encounters
with Indians. Now, without troops to help check the onslaught,
they felt even more vulnerable to the large-scale raids that
had so frequently plagued their neighbors in the Cross Timbers.
[In the summer of 1865] Indians hit the Clear
Fork country in the first of three raids that confirmed the
settlers' worst fears. Phil Reynolds, a single man unrelated
to the herder family, had departed from the Ledbetter Salt Works
for a load of wood when some Indians ambushed his wagon and
killed him about ten miles from the mine. Reynold's oxen wandered
off the road and into a tree, knocking his lifeless body from
the driver's seat. Some men later came upon him and found the
team lodged in the branches of another tree about a mile away.
About the same time, near old Camp Cooper,
two dozen or so warriors attacked seven cow hunters who had
left Fort Davis to set up a residence closer to their herds.
One of the stockmen, Press McCarty, fled to the post to warn
their families. J.A. Browning also made it back, but everyone
feared the worst when the others failed to return by nightfall.
Their apprehensions were surely justified. John Hittson had
been wounded in the hip; an arrow had pinned his brother William
to his saddle. They still managed to lead the others to the
shelter of a ledge on nearby Tecumseh Creek. Freeman Ward, a
black youth with the group, never reached safety, however. The
fatal mistake of stopping to retrieve his hat allowed the raiders
time to overtake him; as Ward resumed flight, they ran his horse
into some boulders and then slaughtered him, according to a
* * *
While the U.S. Army staged campaigns against
the Plains Indians north of the Canadian and Red rivers between
1866 and the end of the decade, it all but ignored the threat
to life and Anglo expansion south of Indian Territory. The Department
of the Missouri, encompassing most of the Great Plains, did
not extend its jurisdiction into Texas, which remained coupled
with Louisiana under the same administrative umbrella until
1871. Thus, at the same time that the army was spending millions
harassing Indians from Oklahoma to Montana, Comanches and Kiowas
who raided Texas farms and ranches almost unchecked, enjoyed
a lucrative trade with New Mexican Comancheros. Throughout the
former Confederacy, the military focus remained on occupation.
General Sheridan demonstrated how little he knew about the pioneers'
situation when he marveled that "over a white man killed
by Indians on an extensive frontier the greatest excitement
will take place," while Texans voiced little concern over
"the killing of many freedmen in [eastern Texas]."
By 1867 many pioneers had come to depend upon
their own resources for protection. In April some of the Clear
Fork herders exacted revenge against the Comanches for recent
raids. T.E. Jackson, John and Mitch Anderson, Silas Hough, George
and William Reynolds, and several others pursued a party of
warriors to the Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos near the
Haskell-Stonewall County line, where they noticed a large cloud
of dust kicked up by running buffalo. A closer look revealed
seven Indians--actually, five Comanches, accompanied by a Hispanic
man and an African American in Indian clothing--slaughtering
one of the beasts. Abandoning their quarry, the warriors charged
the cow hunters. One "Indian" all but emptied two
six-shooters in the direction of George Reynolds, who had separated
from the others. The herder dropped the warrior from his horse,
however, and later killed him by breaking his neck. Another
of the Comanches shot Reynolds with an arrow, its iron spike
lodging in his back, where it was to remain for several years.
The cattlemen soon forced the warriors into a full retreat,
with Silas Hough hotly chasing the one who had wounded his friend.
He soon returned with several trophies, including the Indian’s
scalp. In all, they had lifted the hair from five corpses and
left another adversary mortally wounded...
* * *
When [Comanche] raiders struck the Clear Fork
country one inclement spring day in 1868, the full might of
the combined forces--stockmen, soldiers, and Indian scouts--enjoyed
the singular occasion of a complete rout. A group of herders
was the first to encounter the war party. At a roundup near
Battle Creek, just south of Shackleford County, one of the stockmen
raised his head into the cold, stiff wind and blowing sand and
spotted a Comanche. He quickly rallied a force to scout the
area, and at a nearby rise cowboys and Indians came face-to-face.
The well-armed herders soon outgunned the bows and arrows of
their more numerous adversaries, forcing the war party from
the field. After the skirmish the stockmen combed the countryside;
in a small grove of live oaks they found George Hazelwood lying
dead with more than a dozen shells and several curious-looking
black arrows scattered around his body. Gone were his Spencer
rifle, pistol, and horse. On further investigation the men found
a dead warrior and evidence that Hazelwood had wounded at least
The dawn attack on March 6, 1868, was short
and one-sided. The Tonkawas particularly relished the initial
assault, savaging their rivals [the Comanches] with guns, knives,
and clubs. The whites briefly suspended the action to question
the survivors, who explained that they had fashioned the black
arrows found near Hazelwood's body to honor their war chief--an
African American whom the settlers had killed the previous day.
The troopers believed that he was Cato, an occasional resident
of Fort Concho. After learning this curious revelation, the
soldiers unleashed the Tonkawas to complete the massacre. A
tall, broad-shouldered scout named Johnson reportedly “came
out of the fight with seven scalps dangling at his belt...
Source: Ty Cashion, A Texas Frontier: The
Clear Fork Country and Fort Griffin, 1849-1887, (Norman, Oklahoma
1996), pp. 82, 86-87, 105-106.
BILL SIMMS MIGRATES TO KANSAS
Missouri freedman Bill Simms hardly fits the
image of black emigrants to post Civil War Kansas. Born a slave
near Osceola, Missouri, in 1839, he joined the Union Army during
the Civil War but returned home after the conflict where his
former owner gave the family forty acres of valuable timberland.
When the owner's heirs disputed the gift, Simms and his family
were forced to flee to adjoining Claire County, but as he states
in his narrative, "I wanted to see Kansas, the state I
had heard so much about." His narrative, part of a 1936
WPA interview conducted when Simms was 97 years old, continues
I couldn't get nobody to go with me, so I
started out afoot across the prairies for Kansas. After I got
some distance from home it was all prairie. I had to walk all
day long following buffalo trail. At night I would go off a
little ways from the trail and lay down and sleep. In the morning
I'd wake up and could see nothing but the sun and prairie. Not
a house, not a tree, no living thing, not even could I hear
a bird. I had little to eat, I had a little bread in my pocket.
I didn't even have a pocket knife, no weapon of any kind. I
was not afraid, but I wouldn't start out that way again. The
only shade I could find in the daytime was the rosin weed on
the prairie. I would lay down so it would throw the shade in
my face and rest, then get up and go again. It was in the spring
of the year in June.
I came to Lawrence, Kansas, where I stayed
two years working on the farm. In 1874 I went to work for a
man by the month at $35 a month and I made more money than the
owner did, because the grasshoppers ate up the crops. I was
hired out to cut up the corn for him, but the grasshoppers ate
it up first. He could not pay me for sometime. Grasshoppers
were so thick you couldn't step on the ground without stepping
on a dozen at each step. I got my money and came to Ottawa in
December 1874, about Christmas time...
Ottawa was very small at the time I came here,
and there were several Indians close by that used to come to
town. The Indians held their war dance on what is now the courthouse
grounds. I planted the trees that are now standing on the courthouse
grounds. I still panted trees until three or four years ago.
There were few farms fenced and what were, were on the streams.
The prairie land was all open. This is what North Ottawa was,
nothing but prairie north of Logan Street, and a few houses
between Logan Street and the river. Ottawa didn't have many
business houses. There was also an oil mill where they bought
castor beans, and made castor oil on the north side of the Marias
des Cygnes River one block west of Main Street. There was one
hotel, which was called Leafton House and it stood on what is
now the southwest corner of Main and Second Streets...
The people lived pretty primitive. We didn't
have kerosene. Our only lights were tallow candles, mostly grease
lamps, they were just a pan with grease in it, and one end of
the rag dragging out over the side which we would light. There
were no sewers at that time.
I had no chance to go to school when a boy,
but after I came to Kansas I was too old to go to school, and
I had to work, but I attended night school, and learned to read
and write and figure...
Source: George P. Rawick, ed., The American
Slave: A Composite Autobiography Volume 16, Kansas, Kentucky,
Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and Tennessee Narratives (Westport,
Connecticut, 1972), pp. 10-12.
BLACK KANSANS CALL FOR EQUAL RIGHTS
In October 1866, a group of black men met
in Lawrence, Kansas, to proclaim their political equality and
to call for the removal of racial restrictions on suffrage and
civil rights. Their conference issued an "Address to the
Citizens of Kansas," which argued their case. Part of the
address is reprinted below.
We address you on the sacred subject of Human
Liberty and the Equal Rights of Man. "Hear us for our cause."
Assembled as we are in the State Convention, to adopt measures
for our moral and intellectual improvement, which depends mainly
upon ourselves, we would call your attention most earnestly
to our constitutional and legal disabilities, the removal of
which depends mainly upon you.
We are among you, constituting a portion of
the permanent inhabitants of this young and growing commonwealth.
We have been identified with its past troubles. We are identified
in its present prosperity. We are laboring, like yourselves,
to make for it a future greatness. God, by the fortunes of war,
placed us in your midst. No scheme of....colonization will ever
induce us to leave our adopted home. Since, then, we are to
remain among you, bearing our share of the burden of the government
of the Sate and the nation, we believe it is unjust, unwise,
inhuman and impolitic, to continue in force a constitution and
laws which take from us, as a class, many of our dearest natural
and justly inalienable rights....
We seek no favors. We do not desire social
equality. But we do demand equality before the law. We seek
complete emancipation--full and perfect enfranchisement--absolute
That we are men, no sane man will question.
Being men, then, we have justly the right of self-government.
Every man is properly the judge of his own actions; he and he
only has the right to say by what rule or law these actions
are to be performed. Hence, governments derive their powers
from the consent of the governed. All political power is inherent
in the people--not in any particular privileged class, but in....the
whole people. Self-government is not one of the incidents of
humanity, but one of its necessities. It is not a something
for which men may be prepared. It is not an attainment. It is
not a reward for conduct. It is not an honor conferred by society.
It is not a prerogative given by the government. With less than
self-government, man is less than man.... The right to exercise
the elective franchise is an inseparable part of self-government
and is one of the inherent rights of man. No man, white or black,
can justly be deprived of this right. The right of suffrage
is not a conventional privilege merely, which may be withheld
from any class of citizens at the will of the majority, but
a right as sacred and inviolable as the right of life, liberty
Having presented these considerations, we
must leave our cause in your hands.... The power to redress
our wrongs, and to grant us our just rights, is vested in you.
You, for the present, must determine our destiny. We are among
you; here we must remain. Shall our presence conduce to the
welfare, peace, and prosperity of the State, or to be the cause
of dissention, discord and irritation? We must be a constant
trouble in the State until it extends to us equal and exact
Then place justice and equality in your constitution
and laws--in your halls of legislation, in your schools and
colleges. Let equality of rights be the foundations of our institutions.
Let the rich and the poor, the black and the white, the learned
and the ignorant, stand on the broad platform of legal equality.
Then strife and discord will cease, peace will be placed upon
an enduring foundation, and our people, now divided and hostile,
will dwell together in unity and power.
C. H. Langston, Chairman
Lieut. W. D. Matthews
Source: Kansas Tribune, October 28, 1866,
SCHOOL SEGREGATION COMES TO PORTLAND
The integration of Portland's public schools
became one of the first test cases of post Civil War black freedom
in the West when in 1867, William Brown, a black Portland shoemaker,
attempted to enroll his four children in the city's public school.
The following is an account of the response of Portland school
officials as recalled by Thomas Alexander Wood, a EuroAmerican
Methodist minister who tried to help Brown and other African
American parents. Wood's account recalled the date of the incident
inaccurately, it was 1867 rather than 1865, Moreover, his conclusion
that "the colored people were made happy" with the
compromise he worked out with school officials allowing for
a segregated school, was also called into question by the continuing
efforts blacks parents made to integrate the system. Their efforts
were finally successful in 1874, when the school board reversed
its 1867 decision and allowed thirty black children to enroll
in the public schools. Otherwise Wood's recollection of the
1867 events is confirmed by school board minutes and newspaper
In 1864 or 65 as near as I can remember a
colored man named Brown, a book and shoe maker, came and begged
me to assist him to get his children into the Public schools.
He had tried the Directors and they refused to admit them. He
had also sent his children to the school and they had been sent
home. I found in all, sixteen colored children of proper school
age in the District. I met the Directors who recognized the
claim of these colored children, but said, "If we admit
them, then next year we will have no money to run the schools."
They however made this proposition: "It
cost us $2.25 per quarter for each child in school. Now we will
allow the colored people $2.25 for each child they send to school
each quarter, and they can get a house and hire their own teacher."
This I positively declined for them, and gave these reasons.
"The rent of a school or rooms for the school would cost
$15.00 per month or $45.00 per quarter, not counting fuel. A
teacher would cost $50.00 per month or $150.00 per quarter.
That would amount to $195.00. You propose to allow for the 16
children $2.25 each or $35.00.
The colored people would have to put up $160.00
out of their own pockets. That is unfair. They are by law entitled
to enter the public school. What is more they pay taxes to support
the school, and we will say this, if you will rent a house and
employ a competent [sic] teacher, the colored people will send
the children to this separate school, but you must pay all the
bills the same as you now do at the other schools."
This they declared they would not do. I told
them we would make them admit the children to the public schools,
and left them and the question as above stated unsettled. We
then went to Dave Logan, Atty. at Law [and former Portland mayor]
and commenced an action against the Directors to compel them
to admit these colored children.
On the following day I met Mr. Failing the
chairman of the Board of Directors, and he gave me a "going
over," that amused me, while his temper was at a "white
heat." Among other things he said to me were: "If
it was not for you we would have induced them to take the $2.25."
When I appealed to his better nature and explained that such
a proposition was not fair or honest, he would dodge to the
policy of the question at issue. I told him there was too much
principal [sic] and too much right and wrong involved to admit
or consider for a moment, the question of policy. "Do right
though the Heavens fall."
The case never came to Court as these same
Directors rented a suitable house on 4th and Columbia Street
and employed a teacher at the expense of the school fund. And
the colored people were made happy.
Source: Thomas Alexander Wood, "First
Admission of Colored Children to the Portland Schools,"
Manuscript 37, Oregon Historical Society
THE ELEVATOR CELEBRATES PASSAGE OF THE FIFTEENTH AMENDMENT
The following article, titled "Let Us
Rejoice," appeared in the San Francisco Elevator marking
the occasion of the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment
to the United States Constitution.
The grand work is accomplished. Over three-fourths
of the States of this Union have ratified the Fifteenth Amendment,
proposed by the last Congress, which gives us political freedom,
as the Emancipation Proclamation gave us personal freedom. This
is but the culmination of that immortal edict, the glorious
consummation of a series of liberal and progressive legislation.
This consummation was inevitable. Without this, all previous
legislation amounted to nothing. The freedom which the Proclamation
conferred, and the 13th Amendment confirmed, would have been
nullified by the law-making portion of the Southern States,
and the freedman would have been as much in the power of his
former master as ever. With this Amendment enforced, our brethren
in the South have the means of asserting their rights, and defending
themselves against the perpetuity of wrong.
As an evidence of how highly we appreciate
this law, preparations are making probably in every State of
the Union to celebrate the event with appropriate ceremonies.
The rejoicing will not be confined wholly to colored men, but
every true-hearted honest Republican will rejoice with us that
the day has arrived when we can proudly proclaim ourselves American
citizens, and can enjoy all the rights, privileges and immunities
The colored citizens of Virginia City, Nev.,
are determined to have a glorious time on this occasion. They
have invited our friend William H. Hall to deliver the oration.
That it will be a splendid effort worthy [of] his fame and the
occasion, we feel assured. We congratulate the Virginians on
having secured the services of so able a representative of our
The Republicans of Yreka intend showing their
joy when the news arrives, by celebrating the event. This, of
course, means white men, for we do not think there are many
colored men in Yreka, having no subscribers to the Elevator
In the Eastern States and cities it will likewise
be celebrated, and doubtless shouts of joy will resound from
the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the lakes to the gulf.
San Francisco will not be backward. A large and enthusiastic
meeting was held on Wednesday evening to make suitable arrangements
for having a grand celebration. It was one of the largest, and
most harmonious meetings we ever attended in San Francisco.
At an early hour, the Lecture Room of Bethel Church was crowded.
One feeling and one sentiment pervaded the entire assemblage.
Elder Morgan electrified them with his thrilling eloquence,
and all seemed determined to meet on a united platform.
Another meeting will be held next Wednesday
evening in the same place, when we hope every colored person
in this city, male and female, will attend.
Source: San Francisco Elevator, February 18,
1870, p. 2.
HELENA CITIZENS CELEBRATE THEIR NEW RIGHTS
Helena Montana's African Americans, like their
counterparts throughout the United States acclaimed the passage
of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution.
In 1870 they wrote the local newspaper, the Helena Daily Herald,
announcing their celebration. Given the subsequent events of
the remainder of the Nineteenth Century in the South and in
Montana, their celebration of the removal of the "stigmatizing
qualifications" on their citizenship would prove premature.
LETTER TO THE EDITOR:
We, the colored citizens of Helena, feeling
desirous of showing our high appreciation of those God-like
gifts granted to us by and through the passage of the 15th Amendment
to the Constitution of the United States, and knowing, as we
do, that those rights which have been withheld from us, are
now submerged and numbered with the things of the past, now
thank God, is written and heralded to the wide world that we
are free men and citizens of the United States--shorn of all
those stigmatizing qualifications which have made us beasts.
To-day, thank God, and the Congress of the United States, that
we, the colored people of the United States, possess all those
rights which God, in His infinite wisdom, conveyed and gave
Now, we, the citizens of Helena, in the Territory
of Montana, in mass assembled, on the 14th of April, A.D. 1870,
do, by these presents, declare our intentions of celebrating
the ratification of the 15th Amendment, on this 15th day of
April, by the firing of thirty-two guns, from the hill and to
the south of the city.
BENJAMIN STONE, President
J.R. JOHNSON, Secretary
Source: Helena Daily Herald, April 15, 1870.
Dr. W.H.C. STEPHENSON IN VIRGINIA CITY
In the following account, Nevada historian
Elmer R. Rusco describes the life of Dr. W.H.C. Stephenson,
the only African American physician in Nevada, or the far west,
in the 1860s.
Nevada's small black population during the
19th Century included a physician who practiced on the Comstock
for at least 12 years. Dr. W.H.C. Stephenson was also an outstanding
and respected leader of his African American community and of
the wider community of the preeminent mining and population
center during this critical period in Nevada's early history.
In addition to his medical contributions, he took the lead in
protesting racial discrimination.
We do not know where Dr. Stephenson received
his training, although apparently he was from Rhode Island.
In 1867 he wrote that "I am...a practicing physician and
have my diploma and passed a successful examination before entering
upon the practice of medicine." In 1868 he wrote that he
had been practicing medicine for 20 years; if that is correct
he must have become a physician around 1848, when he would have
been 23 years old.
We know that he was living in Sacramento and
Marysville in 1862 or 1863. He first appears in a Comstock directory
in 1863... The same directory lists him as a trustee and clerk
for the First Baptist (Colored) Church, which was organized
April 26, 1863. This was the first Baptist church on the Comstock.
For the next 12 or 13 years Dr. Stephenson practiced medicine
on the Comstock, mostly in Virginia City but also in Gold Hill,
Silver City, and Dayton... Various sources list his office in
Virginia City, usually on C. Street [between 1864 and 1875].
In an 1878 directory his wife was listed as living at the 120
South C Street address which he had used as an office.
Nevada's first black physician was obviously
well educated and quite intelligent, as a number of letters
to the editor and his leadership in various community matters
attest. In 1870, when black men were allowed to vote for the
first time after the 15th Amendment became part of the U.S.
Constitution, Dr. Stephenson and other black Nevadans registered
to vote. The Territorial Enterprise reported that "a person
of lighter skin but darker heart refused to register because
he would not place his name under the Doctor's." The newspaper
offered the opinion that Stephenson would not have objected
to placing his name after that of this man because "Dr.
Stephenson has intelligence enough to see that it would not
detract from him to have his name follow that of an inferior."
In a vigorous attack on the school law [excluding
black students] in 1870, the physician reported the taxes that
he had paid during 1869 and protested that the exclusion of
black [students] from the public schools was grossly unfair
and a violation of the "right to an equal protection of
the laws...and equal school rights with the Anglo-Saxon."
He suggest that the question was whether "people of color"
were "as human beings, entitled to any school privileges
whatever." The 1870 census of population reported that
Dr. Stephenson and his wife Jane had a daughter who was 13...and
no doubt his own child was one of the children not allowed to
attend public schools.
In short, W.H.C. Stephenson was not only a
physician on the Comstock for a decade and a half but was also
an early advocate of human rights in the state. He deserves
to be remembered for those achievements.
Source: Elmer R. Rusco, "A Black Doctor
on the Comstock, Greasewood Tablettes (Department of Pathology,
University of Nevada School of Medicine, 9:2 (Summer 1998),
HENRY O. WAGONER, JR., ON BLACK RIGHTS
Henry O. Wagoner, Jr., the twenty year old
son of one of black Denver's leading civil rights advocates,
was given the rare privilege of addressing an audience gathered
to celebrate the ratification of the 15th Amendment to the United
States Constitution. Wagoner congratulated the audience and
praised those who had fought for the amendment but he also warned
of the civic responsibilities that accompany the newly won voting
rights. Part of his address is reprinted below.
Mr. President and Fellow Citizens: My own
youthful appearance will naturally suggest the improbability
of my being a public speaker of either experience or ability,
and hence an extended apology would be needless repetition of
what is already apparent. But the occasion is one well calculated
to move even the most subtle and most timid from silence. I
see before me a vast audience of my fellow people, glowing with
enthusiasm, and I am inclined to ask what is the cause of this
meeting? For what purpose are we assembled here tonight? Is
it to give aid and comfort to some runaway slave? Is it to adopt
resolutions declaring the existence of rights whose exercise
we are unjustly denied? Is it to appoint representatives to
be sent to state capitals, there to plead our cause... Is it
to give expression to our utter horror and indignation at some
violence perpetrated on the person or property of some of our
No sir. No such objects as these bring us
here tonight. No longer must we come together stealthily by
night to give relief to fugitive slaves. No more need we send
champions of our rights to state capitals or national conventions;
for the reason no longer exists. No more do we hear the heart
rending cry of poor mortals bleeding under the lash.... Such
things....happily for ourselves, happily for our posterity...are
doomed to exist only in the memories and records of the past.
We are here tonight for thanksgiving and rejoicing
at the ratification of the fifteenth amendment to the constitution
of the United States, whereby manhood and fealty are made the
conditions of suffrage irrespective of color, race or creed...
The consummation which we celebrate is of
great practical importance. It adds, instantaneously, nearly
a quarter of a million voters.... This act is the completion
of one of the greatest reforms ever accomplished by any nation.
The revolution has been vast, rapid, grand. The despised chattel
of 1860 is the respected voter of today.
To the colored Americans, among the proudest
recollections of the past will be the part they took in their
own deliverance. They may justly boast that they did not remain
passive observers of the great struggle for freedom and national
existence. In the dark hours of the nation's gloom, when a cloud
of despair rested all over this broad land, when the Union party
at last consented, if triumphant, to "break the yoke and
let the oppressed go free;" then did the sable sons of
America rally at the call of the chief, and spill their life-blood
in defense of the flags of their country, which had hitherto
been to them an ensign of tyranny, but now the palladium of
their rights. The negro soldiers have won for themselves an
undying fame for valor and patriotism by their valiant conduct
at a Fort Pillow, a Fort Wagner, and a Pittsburg.
But while we dwell upon the struggles of the
past and the triumphs of today, let us not forget the duties
of tomorrow. Long indulged prejudice can not be legislated away,
and in the exercise of our new privilege we will be jealously
watched. In a government like ours no race or set of men who
are deficient in intellectual attainments can hope to retain
power or to exercise any considerable influence in shaping public
affairs any more than a single individual can expect to rise
to a position of honor...who is destitute of these qualities....
It behooves us, then, to look well to our mental cultivation.
Be studious and ever ready to receive and impart instruction.
See to it that your children are provided with ample schools
and competent teachers, and assist them, by all means in your
power, in gaining a good education, which will enable them to
become good, wise and great; thus you and they will live to
a good and noble purpose and honor God....
Source: Denver Rocky Mountain News, May 4,
1870, p. 2.
BLACK VOTING RIGHTS: TWO VIEWS FROM WASHINGTON TERRITORY
The two articles below suggest the range of
opinion in the Pacific Northwest concerning black voting. The
first article in the Vancouver, Washington Territory Register,
recognizing the prejudice against black voting even in the North,
cautions patience and restraint among African Americans and
their supporters who want the ballot. Four years later, upon
passage of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870, the Olympia Commercial
Age noted that blacks were already voting in the Territory and
suggested that their participation nationally would help the
We believe the heaven-born principle of equal
rights will eventually triumph and more speedily than is generally
supposed. The triumph of freedom in the suppression of the late
slaveholder's rebellion, may, and will in the future, we fully
believe, be regarded as an era from which light and knowledge
will spread more rapidly than in the past and human progress
go forward with accelerated speed.. We concur heart and soul
in the glorious and heaven-born principle which recognized the
equal natural right of each and every human being born into
the world to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
But with regard to suffrage we agree with President Johnson
that it is a political and not a natural right, and while we
believe the view which excludes a man from the polls on account
of his color is narrow and full of bigotry and will ever meet
the disapproval of the Great Ruler of Nations, we still believe
that the experience through which we have passed, and the difficulties
which lie before us are calculated to impressively suggest the
propriety and necessity of placing a higher estimate upon the
use of the ballot box; and we think the time is not far distant
when the public sentiment of this nation will triumphantly demand
that loyalty and a certain degree of intelligence, and not color,
shall be the test of admission to this high privilege... Yet
we hope our friends will take warning. Rash precipitation seldom
accomplishes any good result. Better "make haste slowly,"
keep "pegging away," but bide your time. The heaven-born
principle of equal rights will eventually triumph...
* * *
Although the Fifteenth Amendment does not
particularly affect us in this Territory, as the colored folks
have been voters among us for sometime already, yet it will
be a matter of much importance in both Oregon and California...
If the Democratic party persists in its long time inveterate
hostility to the negro, some of the closely divided states will
in all probability be insured to the Republicans by the negro
vote. Among these states we may mention Connecticut, New York,
New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Ohio. But will the Democratic
party be so stupid as to drive these new voters en masse into
the Republican fold? We doubt it. On the contrary, we expect
to see that party making special efforts to win these voters
enough of them, at least, to divide their strength. But, if
the Republicans are true to themselves and their principles,
they will have a decided advantage over their opponents in this
struggle at least, so far as the more intelligent of the negroes
The negroes know, of course, that they owe
their enfranchise¬ment to the Republican party, while they
have every reason for regarding the other party with aversion
and distrust. But they cannot all be expected to take the highest
view of their obligations as citizens; and many of them, will,
no doubt, be ready to fall into the snares which unscrupulous
Democrats will be sure to lay in their path. The Republicans,
moreover, are by no means all saints, nor all entirely exempt
from the spirit of estate. Mean men in this party, as in the
other, will, no doubt, continue to behave shabbily toward the
new made voters, thus helping the Democrats to "divide
that they may conquer."
It will be a happy day for the country when
the people shall no more care to inquire whether a voter or
a candidate for office is white or black than whether he is
tall or short."
Sources: The Vancouver Register, January 27,
1866, p. 1; Olympia, Commercial Age, March 26, 1870, p. 1.
BLACK VOTING RIGHTS: A HAWAIIAN NEWSPAPER'S VIEW
The debate over black voting rights occasionally
extended beyond the boundaries of the United States as when
the Honolulu Friend, an English-language Hawaiian newspaper
urged in 1865 that suffrage be granted to the newly freed slaves.
Its editorial, reprinted in the San Francisco Elevator, appears
In glancing over the files of the American
papers, the most prominent question of discussion appears to
be the status of the negro. Shall he, or shall he not be admitted
to all the civil and political rights of the white inhabitants?
This is the question. Of course there is a great difference
of opinion upon the subject. Such men as Chief Justice Chase,
Senator Sumner, and a host of leading men of the Republican
party, take the ground that the negro should now be permitted
to vote and enjoy all the privileges of the white population.
In our opinion these men occupy the only consistent
and correct ground. The negro has nobly fought for the country,
and now not to allow him all the rights and privileges enjoyed
by his fellow soldiers would be wrong. A loyal negro, true to
his country and the flag, is surely as good a citizen as a rebel,
although he [the rebel] may have recently take the oath of allegiance.
We hope Americans will start aright this time.
Give the colored man a fair start, and let him try for himself.
We believe most fully in the doctrine that all men should enjoy
equal civil and political rights. The tendency is towards that
point in all lands. Revolutions go not backward.
Source: The Honolulu Friend, reprinted in
the San Francisco Elevator, October 13, 1865, p. 1.
THE RECONSTRUCTION AMENDMENTS: OREGON'S RESPONSE
In the following vignette Elizabeth McLagan
describes the Oregon legislature's response to the Fourteenth
and Fifteenth Amendments to the U. S. Constitution.
During the Civil War the [Oregon] legislature
passed the last anti-black state laws, with the exception of
the ban on intermarriage passed in 1866. Between 1866 and 1872,
the legislature was required to consider ratification of the
Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, which gave citizenship
to black people and the right to vote to black men. It was clear,
however, that these amendments were unpopular with most Oregonians....
The Oregon Statesman, in an editorial published [in 1865], predicted
that giving the vote to blacks would have a revolutionary influence
on society.... Full suffrage would result in a "war of
the races," the editorial concluded.
If we make the African a citizen, we cannot
deny the same right to the Indian or the Mongolian (the Chinese,
Japanese and other Asians). Then how long would we have peace
and prosperity when four races separate, distinct and antagonistic
should be at the polls and contend for the control of government?
The 1866 Legislature, still controlled by
the [Republicans] but with a strong minority of Democrats, considered
and ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, although the vote was
close.... The Democrats made two attempts to withdraw ratification
but....these attempts failed.
This legislature also passed another law prohibiting
intermarriage. It was directed not only against white/black
marriages, but against anyone with "one-fourth or more
Negro, Chinese or [Hawaiian] blood, or any person having more
than one half Indian blood. It passed with little debate the
combined vote was 47 in favor, 8 opposed and 3 absent. The penalty
for disobeying the law was a prison sentence of not less than
three months, or up to one year in jail. Any person authorized
to conduct marriages who broke the law by marrying two people
illegally was subject to the same penalty, with an additional
$1,000 fine. This law was not repealed until 1951.
The legislator's reluctance to endorse the
Fourteenth Amendment was the subject of debate in the local
press as well. In 1867, the Eugene Weekly Democratic Review
printed a vicious attack on black people.
....gaping, bullet pated, thick lipped, wooly
headed, animal-jawed crowd of niggers, the dregs of broken up
plantations, idle and vicious blacks, released from wholesome
restraints of task masters and overseers.... Greasy, dirty,
lousy, they drowsily look down upon the assembled wisdom of
a dissevered Union. Sleepily listen to legislators who have
given them their freedom and now propose to invest them with
the highest privileges of American citizenship.
Because of its rabid pro-South rhetoric, this
paper had been suppressed during the Civil War.
In 1868, another attempt was made to repeal
ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, declared to be ratified
nationally only six weeks previously. This time the repeal passed
in both chambers by a combined vote of 39 to 27. This session
also recalled Oregon Senators George H. Williams and Henry W.
Corbett, criticized for their support of Reconstruction. Williams
was also active in the campaign to impeach President Andrew
Johnson, who had become the hero of the Democratic Party for
his opposition to Reconstruction. The legislature was not deluded
into thinking that its actions would make any difference; the
Oregonian predicted that if copies of the resolutions ever reached
Congress they would probably be used to light someone's cigar....
The Fifteenth Amendment was proposed, ratified
and declared in force by Congress between Oregon's 1868 and
1870 legislative sessions.... The legislative session of 1870....declared
the Fifteenth Amendment was "an infringement on popular
rights and a direct falsification of the pledges made to the
state of Oregon by the federal government." The Fifteenth
Amendment was finally ratified by the centennial legislature
Although Oregon refused to ratify the Fifteenth
Amendment, a state Supreme Court decision rendered in 1870 affirmed
the right of black men to vote. The case involved the election
of a county commissioner in Wasco County, and C.H. Yates and
W.S. Ford, two black men who had voted.... That same year the
Oregonian, which five years earlier had opposed the Fifteen
Amendment, ran an editorial which admitted:
There are but a few colored men in Oregon,
and their political influence cannot be great. But these here
are, as a rule, quiet, industrious and intelligent citizens.
We cannot doubt they will exercise intelligently the franchise
with which they are newly invested.
Resistance to accepting the black vote....was
overcome not by a change in attitude, but because Oregonians
realized that federal civil rights legislation had to be acknowledged,
if not endorsed. By 1870, change was inevitable, so Oregonians
acquiesced. Blacks were granted civil rights under the terms
imposed by the federal government, without the endorsement of
the state legislature. Oregon's black population was small and
posed little threat to the established order. The period of
enacting racist legislation had ended, but it would be many
years before the legislature would begin to take an interest
in passing laws that would allow black people to enjoy equal
rights as citizens of the state.
Source: Elizabeth McLagan, A Peculiar Paradise:
A History of Blacks in Oregon, 1788-1940 (Portland, 1980), pp.
FREDERICK DOUGLASS DESCRIBES THE "COMPOSITE NATION"
In an 1869 speech in Boston, Frederick Douglass
challenged most social observers and politicians (including
most African Americans) by advocating the acceptance of Chinese
immigration. Part of his argument is presented below.
I have said that the Chinese will come...
Do you ask, if I favor such immigration, I answer I would. Would
you have them naturalized, and have them invested with all the
rights of American citizenship? I would. Would you allow them
to vote? I would. Would you allow them to hold office? I would.
But are there not reasons against all this?
Is there not such a law or principle as that of self-preservation?
Does not every race owe something to itself..? Should not a
superior race protect itself from contact with inferior ones?
Are not the white people the owners of this continent...? Is
it best to take on board more passengers than the ship will
carry? To all of this and more I have one among many answers,
together satisfactory to me, though I cannot promise that it
will be so to you.
I submit that this question of Chinese immigration
should be settled upon higher principles than those of a cold
and selfish expediency. There are such things in the world as
human rights. They rest upon no conventional foundation, but
are external, universal, and indestructible. Among these, is
the right of...migration; the right which belongs to no particular
race, but belongs alike to all and to all alike. It is the right
you assert by staying here, and your fathers asserted by coming
here. It is this great right that I assert for the Chinese and
Japanese, and for all other varieties of men equally with yourselves,
now and forever. I know of no rights of race superior to the
rights of humanity, and when there is a conflict between human
and national rights, it is safe to go to the side of humanity...
I reject the arrogant and scornful theory by which they would
limit migratory rights, or any other essential human rights
to themselves, and which would make them the owners of this
great continent to the exclusion of all other races of men.
I want a home here not only for the negro,
the mulatto and the Latin races; but I want the Asiatic to find
a home here in the United States, and feel at home here, both
for his sake and for ours... If respect is had to majorities,
the fact that only one fifth of the population of the globe
is white, the other four fifths are colored, ought to have some
weight and influence in disposing of this and similar questions...
If the white race may exclude all other races from this continent,
it may rightfully do the same in respect to all other lands...and
thus have all the world to itself...
The apprehension that we shall be swamped
or swallowed up by Mongolian civilization...does not seem entitled
to much respect. Thought they come as the waves come, we shall
be stronger if we receive them as friends and give them a reason
for loving our country and our institutions. They will find
here a deeply rooted, indigenous, growing civilization, augmented
by an ever-increasing stream of immigration from Europe....
They will come as strangers. We are at home. They will come
to us, not we to them. They will come in their weakness, we
shall meet them in our strength...and with all the advantages
of organization. Chinese children are in American schools in
San Francisco. None of our children are in Chinese schools,
and probably never will be... Contact with these yellow children...would
convince us that the points of human difference, great as they,
upon first sight, seem, are as nothing compared with the points
of human agreement. Such contact would remove mountains of prejudice.
The voice of civilization speaks an unmistakable
language against the isolation of families, nations and races,
and pleads for composite nationality as essential to her triumphs.
Those races of men which have... had the least intercourse with
other races of men, are a standing confirmation of the folly
of isolation. The very soil of the national mind becomes in
such cases barren, and can only be resuscitated by assistance
Source: Philip S. Foner and Daniel Rosenberg,
eds., Racism, Dissent, and Asian Americans from 1850 to the
Present: A Documentary History (Westport, Conn., 1993), pp.